FORT HOOD, Texas - The long slow months of combat training in the sweltering Texas summer heat has come to an end for the Soldiers of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade as they prepared to embark on the final leg of their odyssey to Iraq for the next 12 months.
The Texas Army National Guard’s 36th CAB, 36th Infantry Division (T-Patchers), consists of approximately 2,700 Soldiers from 44 states. The unit completed half a year of intense flight and theater immersion training at Fort Hood, Texas, and at the Army Aviation Center located at Fort Rucker, Ala., in preparation for its multi-spectrum mission in support of the Multi-National Corps Iraq.
Lt. Gen Russel L. Honore, First U.S. Army commander, deemed the 36th CAB combat ready during an official send-off ceremony at the Leo Buckley High School Stadium in Killeen, Texas, where more than 1,000 family members and friends came together to bid farewell to their loved ones.
General Honore started the ceremony by motivating the men and woman standing on the bright green football field by yelling the unit's motto, "Mustang!" and the Soldiers roaring back with a thunderous "Fit to fight!"
"It's great to be here today with the most well trained combat ready aviation brigade in the United States Army," General Honore said.
The general told the Soldiers in formation before him that, although they come from various states throughout America, they all have trained hard together as one team in preparation for combat and that they were tenacious, tough and aggressive, which is everything that a commander would want in a combat formation.
"America is proud of you, your states are proud of you, and you carry their pride on your shoulder," General Honore exclaimed.
Maj. Gen. Charles G. Rodriguez, Adjutant General of Texas, spoke on behalf of the adjutant generals of Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Utah, whose Soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder in formation with his Texans. He told them that the hearts, minds and prayers of all of the people in the stand and those they represent back in their home state are with them during their challenging and dangerous deployment.
"We awaken every morning thinking of you and the freedom you provide and your selfless courage and determination to keep America free,” General Rodriguez said.
Col. Vernon A. Sevier Jr., 36th CAB commander, acknowledged the sadness that they all feel in having to leave their loved ones and friends to go and serve their country for the next year. He recognized the tremendous sacrifices of their families, friends and employers and the overwhelming support they give that allows them to perform their mission.
Colonel Sevier went on to praise his Soldiers for their accomplishments during their long training and of the pride that he had for each and every one of them.
"I am honored to stand here with you today and am proud of each of you and your families for your sacrifice and dedication,” Colonel Sevier said. “As we deployed forward, be confident in your training, equipment and most importantly have confidence in you and your fellow Soldiers.... We will not let each other down."
Sgt. Teddy J. Cole, of San Antonio Texas and a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crew chief of Company C, 1/108 Aviation Battalion, based in Austin, Texas, said that he has been an aviator for 18 years and that this is his first combat deployment.
Sergeant Cole acknowledged that the year in Iraq will be long and dangerous but said the training they have received was excellent and will help them execute their mission and bring them all back home safely.
The noncommissioned officer explained that being away from his family would be hard especially for his wife who now must take care of their eleven children without him. Sergeant Cole said he is confident that his wife will take care of matters on the home front while he is away and that he hopes his family will be proud of him for serving.
"I hope my wife and children will be proud of all the Soldiers that are going to Iraq with me to perform this very important mission," Sergeant Cole said.
The days of waiting and uncertainty will begin for Ginger Cole when she says goodbye to her husband as he boards the airplane that will take him overseas. She said that the most difficult part for her is not knowing what is going to happen to him over in Iraq because she knows that she will not be able to talk to him every day.
Mrs. Cole said the one thing that gives her and her children comfort is knowing that he is going to Iraq for a purpose and that he is doing the job that he loves and has a passion for which eases their minds and makes them even prouder of him.
"My husband and the rest of the Soldiers that are going to Iraq with him are truly heroes because they are ensuring our freedom and are going to help the Iraqi people secure their freedom and have a better life for their children."